My sweetheart is pretty amazing. Not only is she tall , athletic, and beautiful, but she has one more advanced degree than me, is a “push-hard” doctor (PhD), unlike her “muddle through” (MD) husband. As a senior scientist for NASA, she helped put together the space station and plan missions to Mars. She’s now a beloved teacher of scientific writing who won teacher of the year award from her school last December. She has 30 IQ points on me so I have to watch it all the time. She does not suffer fools gladly, so when one of our church fellowship group suggested we read a little screed out of Apple News on communicating to others whom you think might be misinformed about coronavirus or (gaack) climate change https://apple.news/ArBdW2tW7RkyauRZe12ALmQ, she felt moved to get out of bed early today and write this:
I disagree with the article and here’s my thought process.
Few lay people actually have the knowledge to judge what is “wrong” when it comes to the actual science of COVID-19 or the medical care that is being derived from the science, so any of these discussions are simply speculations by masses of folks who have neither the facts nor the scientific background to understand the nuances that differentiate the “right” from the “wrong”.
Are there issues of a less nuanced scientific nature related to COVID-19? Sure, and these clearly can be and are understood by intelligent people with less of a science background.
We know that chloroquine works as a drug to combat the virus because it has worked, saving many lives, some of which were on the very precipice of death. Wow, that President Trump is a genius!
We know that chloroquine doesn’t work as a drug to combat the virus because it hasn’t worked, and many lives have been lost under its treatment, some of which were rather early in the development of the disease. Wow, that President Trump is an idiot!
The reality? We don’t know if hydroxychloroquine will work or not when we treat a patient with it. We have pretty good information on the mechanism by which it works, but even that knowledge isn’t necessarily going to give us certainty about its veracity as a treatment. Welcome to medicine. Most of us have been exposed to this tiny flaw in the medical field and Bob has been playing the “let’s try this” side of medicine on his patients for years. Those crazy drugs have even been known to change their minds and stop working after having been effective for years.
President Trump was correct when he saw evidence of hydroxychloroquine success and made the statement “this has the potential to be a game changer.” Hydroxychloroquine does have that potential. So do many other drugs. Doesn’t make President Trump the reincarnation of Elijah. Nor does it make him Jezebel.
I am always a fan of discussion and debate, particularly on scientific topics (as opposed to the suggestions we often hear about putting “Climate Deniers” in jail, but more on that later). There is a great deal of merit in listening to others, in trying to understand other views, scientific or otherwise. I am always amazed at how heated and emotional these debates between scientists can get, since science is reputed to be so dry. By the way, I stand guilty as charged in this regard, being arguably the most emotional scientist on the planet. But, as the late senator Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is welcome to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” In a world where anybody can put any nugget of information into the social media and, with repetition and a little marketing, this nugget oddly becomes a fact, the difference between fact and opinion gets blurred. This is made all the more complex when the very people who do understand the science and the medicine disagree about the interpretation of the data (which isn’t quite the same as disagreeing on facts, but from the outside, it sometimes appears that way).
A slightly less scientific right or wrong:
Bob and I were in Busch’s the other day and the woman at the checkout (wearing a cute little mask with red peppers on it) informed us that the governor of Michigan has decreed that everyone must wear a mask of some kind in order to go out in public. When I replied that this was the dumbest thing I had heard in a long time (clearly not having read the article Rhonda sent out), the woman retorted, “the governor just wants us to be safe.” This is usually about the time that the head of the “most emotional scientist on the planet” explodes.
There is nothing safe about any of the masks that any of the folks wandering around Busch’s were wearing. In fact, they may be detrimental. The virus we are wearing masks to protect ourselves from is so tiny, it is beyond imagination. Bob’s description that, if a human hair were as wide as a football field is long, the COVID-19 virus would be the size of a soccer ball provides a pretty good mental image.
Wearing a bandana or a painter’s mask is like replacing the screens in your windows with butterfly netting and making the assumption that you are still protecting yourselves from gnats. Even a surgical mask won’t work. The “N-95” masks are so-named because they are rated to stop 95 % of particles smaller than a tenth of micron. That means that these, the best masks we’ve got, still allow 5% of particles to get through. Have any of you ever seen what folks in these virus labs actually wear? They make space suits look casual.
The governor is doing 2 tried and true political things that are also guaranteed to make my head explode.
1. She’s doing “something”. Doing something is not the same as doing something useful. The governor could line 40 people up outside her mansion and shoot them, thereby guaranteeing that they will not die of COVID-19. It’s doing something, it’s just a really bad something.
2. She’s empowering people to help themselves. Except she’s not, because not only do they not work, but masks constrain your own breathing. Almost anyone who has ever worn a mask for any reason knows the feeling of sneezing inside the mask. The less said about that, the better…
Her bottom line is to “keep us safe” and make people feel better. You know what would make me feel better? Being able to host a fellowship meeting.
I must confess that the author lost her argument with me as soon as she mentioned the non-sense of the 97% of scientists blah, blah climate change, but that is a topic for another day.